Senator Roger Wicker (R., Miss.) won the race to chair the National Republican Senatorial Committee, a victory that may suggest the Republican conference is as worried about primary challenges from the right as Democratic opposition in 2016.
Freshman senator Dean Heller (R., Nev.), who was appointed to his seat in 2011 and won it in the 2012 election, argued that he had the relevant experience heading into an election cycle when Republicans will be defending several seats in traditionally Democratic states.
Meanwhile, Wicker reminded colleagues that he could help them “navigate the primary season,” according to a Senate aide familiar with the pitch that the Mississippi lawmaker’s surrogates made on his behalf.
Wicker, of course, endorsed Senator Thad Cochran (R., Miss.) against Tea Party rival Chris McDaniel and attacked conservative groups for spending money on behalf of such challengers.
“I’m mystified that the powers that be at some point felt that that was a good expenditure of scarce campaign resources,” Wicker told the Washington Post.
There were hints earlier this year that Republican senators remain worried about such challenges, as when the Washington Examiner’s David Drucker reported that they were hoarding their cash even as the party was getting outspent by Democrats.
“At the end of the second fundraising quarter, Senate Republicans had given only about $1.3 million to the committee — a figure that included contributions from leadership PACs — even as they reported holding about $113 million in cash on hand in their personal campaign accounts,” Drucker wrote.
Heller hinted that he would have a “tendency” to stay out of such primary battles, although he made a $15,000 donation in support of Cochran. In any case, much of the staff at the NRSC will remain the same, which suggests that the chairman wouldn’t have a dramatic influence on the organization’s tactics.
Of course, senators may have supported Wicker in the intra-party contest for reasons other than the case his team made regarding primaries: For instance, some GOPers worried about having an NRSC chairman from the home state of the powerful outgoing Senate majority leader, Harry Reid.